How can I best use Google Voice?
August 26, 2010 7:10 PM   Subscribe

I can't get my head around Google Voice. Just what can it do for me?

In general, I know how Google Voice works (at least I think I do). But I'm trying to figure out how I can best use it.

Here's my situation. I'm unemployed and likely to remain so for awhile, as I will be attending school through my state's employment security department for the next nine months or so. When I lost my job, my wife and I dumped our $75/month family cell phone plan and got pay-as-you-go Tracfones (both with double minutes, so when we pay for a 60 minute card we get 120 minutes of time).

One of the reasons we went with the Tracfones is that we used our cell phones relatively little each each month; our heaviest use was daily long distance calls to my wife's father, which was always done during free calling time. We now use a very reasonable long distance card on our landline to make most long distance calls.

So, can I leverage my Google Voice account to any advantage here? Every thing I do on the Tracfone costs money -- a per minute charge (billed in increments as small as 20 seconds) for talking or listening to voice mail, and 1/3 of a minute to send or receive text messages. I typically go through one 60 minute card a month ($20), my wife even less, and our long distance card lasts several months.

I really don't care about using Google Voice to assist with my land line, unless I can use it to do long distance even cheaper than our current long distance card.

Would it be to our advantage to port any of our cell or land line numbers over to Google Voice? I just can't get my head around how to get the best use out of the service.
posted by lhauser to Technology (16 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
Sure, GV can help you. Listen to voicemail and read text messages on the computer (free). Make outgoing calls from Gmail (free). Make long distance calls with Google Voice (free).

If I understand correctly, you'll only have to pay for incoming calls that you pick up on your mobile phone. Calls to your home phone are free. Voicemail is free. Calls from Gmail are free. GV sounds like it's something that can help you.
posted by jrockway at 7:18 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you get a SIP phone (say, the 80 dollar Siemens gigaset), you can direct calls to that through Google Voice and get free unlimited long distance. Only cost is the price of the SIP phone (and internet service). You can get a free incoming SIP number through Sipgate.
posted by iamscott at 7:20 PM on August 26, 2010

Since yesterday you can call people from your computer using Gmail using Google Voice and it is free to the US. Or you can use google voice and your landline (make the call from the computer, it rings your landline and you talk for free (US Canada only) to the person on the other end). If the people you call are outside the US and Canada, Google Voices rates will probably be cheaper than the calling card solution.
posted by birdherder at 7:20 PM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also, you can use skype, if you have a smart phone. It's $30 a year, but requires you have access to a wifi hotspot to make calls.
posted by TheBones at 7:30 PM on August 26, 2010

I really don't care about using Google Voice to assist with my land line, unless I can use it to do long distance even cheaper than our current long distance card.

I use GV to make *free* long distance calls (domestic) on my land line. I just have GV connect the call and then use the phone as normal.

I have it set up so that my GV number rings both my cell and my home phone. That way people can reach me no matter where I am (no cell reception at home, obviously can't use the land line when out). I can answer the land line and not use any cell minutes, but give out the same number to everybody and can still be reached on my cell phone if necessary.

I have my cell phone's voicemail forwarded to GV; I get emailed transcripts of any voicemails and I can store the recordings indefinitely. I don't have to mess with the cell phone itself to access any voicemails, and can pretty easily use GV to return the calls if I want.

I use my GV account for (free) texting. I frankly hate texting and have it blocked on my cell, but my family uses it and sometimes it's easier to reach them that way.

I'm sure there's more, but that's enough for me.
posted by galadriel at 7:51 PM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

I set up GV on a lark and 2 days later my BlackBerry died. This is great, because I can log into Gmail and see if anyone has left me a message, and I can listen to it on my computer rather than trying to find a phone to then call my voicemail. All of this is free. It would be perfect for your situation.

While I'm waiting for my contract with Sprint to run out, I've been using GV to make calls. It works just like Skype, and so far the few calls I've had to make have worked flawlessly.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:02 PM on August 26, 2010

I use GV to make *free* long distance calls (domestic) on my land line. I just have GV connect the call and then use the phone as normal.

Could you explain how you do this?
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:03 PM on August 26, 2010

I use GV to make *free* long distance calls (domestic) on my land line. I just have GV connect the call and then use the phone as normal.

Could you explain how you do this?

That's how Google Voice works -- or did, until yesterday. Until yesterday, Google Voice didn't have VOIP capability. So you had to use a preexisting telephone connection with it -- either a landline or a cellphone.

You can do this either from the computer or from your phone. The mechanism is the same. If you call from your computer, you directly dial the number you want to call.

If you call from your phone, you start by calling YOUR Google Voice number. That number should be local (unless you requested a number in a different area code/region for whatever reason -- which you might have done). So the call you are making from your phone to your Google Voice number is a local call. You then connect with Google Voice, and use the telephone prompts to make a call. When you punch in the number you want to call -- which is maybe long distance -- your call is still a local call. All of the long-distance telephony takes place on Google's end, not yours.

If you call from your computer, it's the same thing except when you dial from the computer, instead of it connecting to the number you're calling from the computer (which would be VOIP), it rings your phone -- cell, land, whatever -- and when you pick up, Google Voice then connects the call to the number you were calling.

So every call you make with Google Voice from a landline is a local call. Obviously, if you do this with a cellphone, though, you end up using your cell minutes. Which is why the new Google-Voice-in-Gmail thing -- basically, Google providing VOIP -- is so awesome. You can now make phone calls with your Google Voice number without using ANY telephony at all, instead using just your internet connection. (Yes, yes, your internet connection may be telephony if you have U-Verse or DSL or whatnot. You get my point.)
posted by devinemissk at 8:40 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

whoa, so i just press * and follow the prompts. thanks!
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:49 PM on August 26, 2010

Something else really handy is that you can set Google Voice up to handle all your voicemail--even if someone calls your cell phone number directly, not your Google Voice number. So you can listen to all your emails online (or just read the transcriptions, which are usually close enough to get the point.) No need to use any minutes listening to voicemail again.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:00 PM on August 26, 2010

You will be able to can your land line if you want, as long as you've got an internet connection, and just call out and/or receive incoming calls on your puter, should save you a few bucks.

Who can tell me (us) how to hook up a regular telephone using GMail voice or GVoice, so I can wander away from my computer on a cordless phone? I'm sure there's a way -- got to be -- but I'm not yet sure what it is.
posted by dancestoblue at 9:54 PM on August 26, 2010

I love Google Voice for 3 reasons that I'll summarize and then explain. First, I only have one phone number. Second, I use it for international dialing. Third, their voicemail.

I use it as my "office" phone. It's the number on my business card. When someone calls Google Voice, it rings on both my cell phone (Android) and my desk phone. So no matter where I am, I can get calls. Also, it lets me carry just one cell phone around (vs. one work, one professional), and I can still screen out the professional calls if I want.

My parents live in London, and from my cell phone I can dial out using Google Voice and get MUCH, MUCH better international calling rates. To call a landline in London is $0.02 cents/minute from the USA, and to call one of their cell phones is only $0.18 cents/minute. This completely trumps Verizon, is competitive with Skype, and can be used from my cell phone.

Voicemails through Google Voice can be transcribed. That is, you get a text version along with the VM. It was crap at first, but has gotten much, much better, to the point where you often don't have to play the voicemails. Plus you can play them from your computer when you want, and don' t have to dial in anywhere or something stupid like that. Also, you can archive them and search them for later (no 14-day saving period; you can save the ridiculous late-night VM from your sig other for perpetuity if you want).
posted by kryptonik at 4:28 AM on August 27, 2010

For the remainder of 2010, calls from UK to US or Canada (land or mobile) from Gmail are free - and the connection is virtually instantaneous.
posted by Neiltupper at 6:16 AM on August 27, 2010

Some of the reasons I use Google Voice:

- I can give out my GV phone number to whoever I want. If this person is not already in my Gmail contacts then I can have GV ask them to state their name when they call in. Then when GV passes the call to my phone I hear, "Incoming call from [person's name as they stated it]" and I can screen the call if I wish.
- I have GV rules for various people in my phone book. For example, if my girlfriend calls my GV number (from her phone) between 8AM-5PM then both my office phone and my cell phone ring. After 5PM it just goes straight to my cell phone.
- I could (conceivably) tell GV "after 10PM send all calls to voicemail except for my parents' numbers in case of emergency" and so forth.

I think the flexibility in deciding where phone calls go, and when, is worth it alone. You could get a GV account and say, "When someone dials my GV number send them to my home phone" so that you don't waste minutes on your cell phone. Then you can put into your contacts a few important numbers and say, "These numbers ring both my home phone and cell phone" and that way if you're at home you have the option to pick up on either one, and if you're out you won't miss the call.

Plus all the transcripts of emails and such are great - I like having it email me my voicemails.
posted by komara at 7:08 AM on August 27, 2010

If anyone is still looking for instructions on making free (domestic) long distance calls from their home phone with GV (so you're not tied to the computer, so you're not using cell minutes):

* First set up GV so it knows your home phone number ( -- "add another phone" if you need to -- follow instructions)

* at click the "Call" button in the upper left, put in the number you want to call in the top half. Alternatively, go to your Contacts, select a contact, and click "call"

* When the dialing window pops up, make sure the second half says "Number to call" is "Home," and click "Connect"

Your home phone will ring. Pick it up, and then you'll hear ringing as GV connects you to whoever it was you'd like to call. When they pick up on their end, voila! You've made a free long distance call.
posted by galadriel at 7:29 AM on August 27, 2010

Instead of paying for text messages on my Virgin Mobile cell phone, I use tend to send texts from GV when I'm at home.

Also, if I have to pass out a phone number for online orders, mall giveaways, kids with raffle tickets, or whatever, I like using the GV number instead of my cell phone or home phone numbers.

And GV is handy if you have to call contractors and you don't have an answering machine at home.
posted by dragonplayer at 3:10 PM on August 27, 2010

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